My favorite 4 questions and answers with Maarten Keulemans from deVolskrant newpaper.


16) One of the criticisms was that we might risk getting a witch-hunt…

Witch hunting is terrible, so is being a do-nothing bystander that witnesses a crime and becomes an accomplice by remaining silent.

A witch hunt is when you use a tool that has no ability to say anything and indiscriminately accuse people with it.

I did not set out to find fraud. It found me. And when it did, I applied the basic principle of replication that is so fundamental to good scientific inference. And then I applied it again. And then I analyzed their raw data. And then I talked to the authors, and then to the co-authors, and then to the co-authors’ friends. And I gave them my phone number and told them to bring a trusted stat savvy friend. And then nothing happened and I waited and waited. By the time I was raising this issue to the universities, they had already begun investigating, and that was over 6 months ago. There was no rush to judgment here.

Back to the do-nothing bystander. Some of the analyses I have run give a chance of less than 1 in 60 billion for the data to look this way if they were legitimately obtained (this is the American case I am talking about). If I do not respond when facing that evidence, I am half guilty of fraud.
Now, if I take matters in my own hands I am a vigilante.  But I merely passed on my concerns to authorities tasked with taking care of them. I wouldn’t call it a witch hunt.

18) Is there any way to provide definite evidence for data fabrication like in the Stapel case

There is no such thing as definite proof. We send people to jail, we kill enemies in battle, and worse, we flunk students in our psychology classes, without knowing for sure the outcome is just. Sounds horrible. But, what’s the alternative?
We must make that error probability as small as possible, infinitely small, and we must follow procedure so that sane individuals who have done nothing wrong can prove their innocence without their reputation suffering. I cannot think of a single thing I could have done to reduce that probability of an error any further than I did.

11) The public sentiment in our country nowadays is: those social psychologists, with their funny little experiments, they’re more entertainers than scientists. What would you tell them?

There are 1000s of psychologists doing all sorts of interesting and important research, from learning about the basic underpinnings of thought in the brain, and how and when stereotyping happens, to how we can frame information to lead to better decisions and what facilitates learning in young or disadvantaged children. Newspapers do disproportionately cover the minority of cute and entertaining findings, we would all benefit if that changed.


6) What is the deeper reason for all this? I always thought science was about finding the truth in an objective, neutral way. Are scientists too keen on getting attention, or is there something else driving us towards bias?

It is about finding truth, for sure. That’s the reason the vast majority of scientists dedicate their lives to this.  But... we are people. We cannot forget that.
The vast majority of people walking by our houses would not just enter and take stuff from it, still, we lock our doors.
We don’t lock our doors in scientific journals. We should, in the form of requesting scientists to post their data unless they have a good documented reason not to.
Some journals already do that, like the Journal of Judgment and Decision Making and the American Economic Review.  There are arguments against posting data, there are against everything. Even love has its cons.
The pros are much stronger than the cons for both love and publishing data.